CONSUMER: Angry Brian is left to rue decision to use legal team of developer
Brian and Janice MacDonald's purchase of a new dream home turned into a nightmare after faults they claim the builder agreed to fix before they moved in still hadn't been rectified three months after they bought it.
Brian has been chasing property developer Bloor Homes to follow through with its sales staff promises to fix outstanding problems with the house.
The stressed 49-year-old explained that they agreed to buy the £420,000 former show house in Waterlooville in January because the lease on the home they were renting in Southsea was about to expire.
He also agreed to the developer’s suggestion it could save time if they undertook all the legal formalities with buying the house as the firm’s professionals were familiar with new builds and would be able to process the sale quickly and efficiently.
Brian said: ‘We were looking at various houses from estate agents and when driving around we decided to pop in to various developments to see what they had to offer.
‘Bloor Homes said it had a show home for sale and the site sales staff let us view it three or four times.
‘Before and after agreeing to buy the house, we pointed out to both the sales staff cracks in the kitchen floor tiles, and mould, algae and grubbiness on the outside render. The hedging garden trees they agreed to leave in place were either dead or dying.
‘When we moved in they’d not been rectified so we added them to a snagging list.
‘Bloor is saying the house was sold as seen but this is not the case. We trusted them when they said the issues would be sorted.’
Brian finally caught up with the site manager, who confirmed he’d been on to head office about his concerns but had not been given the authority to deal with them.
Brian subsequently spoke to and emailed the firm’s customer services department, but a month or so later a resolution was still not in sight.
Thoroughly frustrated, he decided to get in touch with Streetwise for help and advice.
After talking the issues through with him, we explained that property is exempt from most consumer protection law. While it would be illegal to sell goods ‘as seen’, the protection doesn’t apply to buying a home.
We also confirmed it was never a good idea to use a vendor’s solicitor and other professionals when buying property because it could lead to a conflict of interest and misunderstanding.
Streetwise consulted The National House Building Council’s (NHBC) consumer code for homebuilders, which says the builder should advise buyers to appoint a professional legal adviser to represent their interests. The buyer’s choice should not be restricted.
But despite advising Brian, he had little chance of getting the firm to change its stance because the sale had gone through.
We got on to head office and asked for a comment about Brian’s understandable anger and disappointment at what he believed amounted to sharp practice.
A spokesman for Bloor Homes Southern explained: ‘When Mr MacDonald purchased his home from us at Berewood, he did so on a ‘sold as seen’ basis, which is the normal practice when buying a show home at a new homes development.
‘Under this process, we rectify any warranty defects, such as plumbing, electrical or structural issues, which are brought to our attention by the purchaser.
‘However, cosmetic repairs are not covered under the “sold as seen” agreement, as buyers have the opportunity to inspect the property prior to purchase and are often gifted optional extras as part of the purchase price.
‘In line with this procedure, Mr MacDonald was given two opportunities to report any snagging issues with the property; in the pre-occupation report three days prior to legal completion, and the 10-day list 10 days after legal completion.
‘Some warranty defects were raised by Mr MacDonald and these were rectified. Mr MacDonald did report two cracked floor tiles on the 10-day list, but this was a cosmetic issue which is not covered under the ‘sold as seen’ agreement.
‘The stain to the external render was not reported in either the pre-occupation report or the 10-day list.
‘We asked Mr MacDonald if he would like us to remove the trees from his garden and they were left in place at his request.
‘Decisions on whether to discontinue kitchen tiles and units are made by the manufacturer and are therefore out of our control. It is therefore common practice for manufacturers to regularly update the range of choices they offer, which means it’s impossible for us to predict how long any particular range will be available for.’
While Streetwise fully understood the developer’s position and agreed it had acted professionally at all times, we believed it would have helped to avoid any misunderstanding if Brian had taken independent legal advice prior to purchase.
We put our concerns to the Law Society, which represents and regulates solicitors. We asked about the ethics of solicitors acting for both sides in property transactions, since it could bring doubt as to whose interest was being represented during the conveyancing process.
A spokesman said: ‘We believe that it is right that consumers should be free to choose their own solicitors in all transactions and that there are dangers of a conflict of interest where the same solicitor is acting for both sides in a transaction.
‘However, whether there is a problem will depend upon the facts of each case. The rules relating to conflict of interest are contained in the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) Handbook. Any concerns about solicitors’ conduct should be raised with the SRA as the regulatory body responsible for investigating complaints.’
A seriously miffed Brian still wasn’t happy. He believed he hadn’t been given a square deal, despite Bloor Homes’ insistence he’d been provided with ‘sold as seen’ paperwork at the time of sale.
‘I can’t tell you how angry I am. It doesn’t even look like a new house,’ he said.